Am I a Misandrist?

A side effect of writing this blog is having to constantly clarify that I don’t hate men. I think that’s true. I think that I don’t hate men. That’s a strange thing to be uncertain about, and I’m not even sure about the veracity of the claim anymore. When someone says, “I’m not a racist, but” you can be sure that what they’re about to say is definitely racist. Here I am, always saying, “I’m not a misandrist, but” and I’m wondering if I do kind of hate men, and what to do with these feelings.

Before I get ten thousand angry comments, you should know that even I think I’m wrong more than I’m right. I’m painting with broad strokes here. I started to write that you should think about what I say here on an institutional level and not be personally offended as or on behalf of men. But the reason I’m realizing that I might hate men is personal. And I don’t really know what to do with that.

Here’s the thing: even men who are intelligent and deeply thoughtful will inevitably say or do something that makes me wonder what they really think about women. A little comment will slip out and make me wonder if they see me as an equal or if they even see me as human. And then I wonder what might happen if I keep spending time with them.

I’m not sure I can trust men because one thing will trigger another and then I’m remembering that one time when I was a teenager, the terrifying feeling of being overpowered by a man, being held down, crying and trying to get away. Or my mind goes back a year or two ago, to the time a man slipped his hand around my throat and casually said, “I could kill you so easily right now.” Those are just drops in the giant bucket of bad experiences with men. And yes, there are abusive women who do terrible things and should be held accountable for them. But in my personal experience, there have been a small handful of bad women and an even smaller handful of good men. I don’t believe that all men do these terrible things, but I do believe that all or almost all women have had these experiences with men.

There are too many of these stories. We can call these events to mind and discuss them with too much detachment; it happens so often that it’s stopped being shocking to us. I think about how we’ve been told that we’re the ones overreacting, that it wasn’t such a big deal. We’ve been put in situations with the men who’ve harmed us and been told to be nice, to smile and be polite and let the past be the past.

I don’t want to do that anymore. I got tired of making concessions, of letting abusive people maintain avenues into my life. So I stopped. I stopped having close emotional relationships with men. Over the past few years, I’ve surrounded myself with strong, loud, unbreakable women… and no men. And that gave me the space I needed to grow and recover and build a healthy sense of self. It was definitely the right choice at the time, but now I’m not sure if it’s the right path to continue down.

I have to acknowledge that I probably overcorrected. There were too many abusive men in my life and now there are no men in my life. I do extremes: polarized all or nothings. I know that’s not right and I’m trying to do better, but grace is not a word that’s often used to describe me. I’m not good at forgiveness or wiggle room. I’m a terrible educator. When someone does or says something without realizing that they’re implicitly or explicitly promoting rape culture and perpetuating an environment of violence against women… I tend to leave the table.

I don’t always want or feel able to engage in a dialogue about gender and violence. I know that’s not productive. I know that my silence won’t change anybody’s mind, and in fact will be read as compliance or tacit support, but some days it feels impossible. Some days, I want to be petulant, to call myself a misandrist and swear to never ever speak to a man again. I don’t want to sit in the discomfort and pain and try to figure it out. I want to have a tantrum and leave the hard work to somebody else.

But even as I feel this tension so fully, I have to acknowledge that I am complicit in so many oppressive systems. Every time a man says something that makes me swear that I absolutely definitely hate men, I have to remember that my privileged identities constantly contribute to those same feelings for another person. My ignorance and insensitivity around my whiteness, my straightness, my cis-genderedness hurt people just as much, probably more, than men’s general inability to understand how their privilege and power is marginalizing to me.

And that brings me right back to my own lack of grace. Engaging in social justice, trying to challenge and change the harmful aspects of our society, takes a lot of grace. It’s hard, it hurts, and all of us have valid feelings about it—even when those feelings are in opposition. We have to give each other space to figure it out, and we have to give ourselves some grace too. It’s okay to let someone know that they’re responsible for educating themselves. It’s okay to take a break.

But if we don’t join in again, nothing will ever get better. When I think about all the girls growing up now, I don’t want them to have casual conversations with their friends about the ways they’ve been abused by men. I want their lives to be better, safer, and happier than ours have been. So I have to learn how to balance my legitimate mistrust and wariness with productive and human conversations. I’m still trying to figure out how.

Walking is Still Honest: A Message From the Westnedge Hill Abductee

I want to share something I came across yesterday. To be clear, I have no affiliation with this situation, but it’s incredibly important that we listen when survivors of violent crimes, especially rape, speak out. Please keep in mind all applicable trigger warnings before proceeding.

Transcript:

First of all, I would like to thank the community of Kalamazoo for the outpouring of love, support, and help they have shown me. We are a community of so many wonderful, amazing people of all sorts. We make our city stronger by standing up for each other, being positive forces in each others lives, and by making conscious and consistent efforts to improve our city and ourselves, bit by bit. I have never been more proud of my city.

Secondly, I would like to commend the KDPS for the work they have done involving my case so far and the work they continue to do. Too often we criticize these strong, smart, brave people for their actions. But please remember these are the people that devote their lives to protecting and helping us, and don’t ever ask for our thanks. We forget they are people, just like you or I. We have so many names for them as if they are not like us; they are like us. They shop at the same stores we do; they stop at the same coffee shops; they have families and friends and lives outside their uniforms. They deserve our respect, and our thanks. And I am so glad to be alive to give my thanks. Thank you. I appreciate every one of you.

I would also like to thank all the amazing people who assisted me in the hours after my attack at Bronson and the YWCA. You were all so kind and helped put my mind at ease that I was only left with cuts and bruises in the wake of my attack.

My friends and family have already heard it many times, but thank you for standing by me. I was asked what I had to live for, and all I could say was my friends, my family.

I would like to say to Brad Mason’s family that I’m very sorry you have to go through this. I understand you have a lot of questions and are going through a very difficult time. I think our families are probably very similar. I’m sorry you have to endure so much judgment while mourning the loss of your family member. I’m sure this is a very confusing and frustrating time for you. Please have the strength to get through this. At times I worry you may be very angry with me, but I hope that you are not.

Finally, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts, feelings, and a couple quotes with and for everyone to consider during this difficult time. I’ll begin with the quotes.

‘He was gone, and I did not have time to tell him what I had just now realized: that I forgave him, and that she forgave us, and that we had to forgive to survive in the labyrinth. There were so many of us who would have to live with things done and things left undone that day. Things that did not go right, things that seemed okay at the time because we could not see the future. If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing better is useless.’ – John Green, ‘Looking for Alaska’

‘The good times and the bad times both will pass. It will pass. It will get easier. But the fact that it will get easier does not mean that it doesn’t hurt now. And when people try to minimize your pain they are doing you a disservice. And when you try to minimize your own pain you’re doing yourself a disservice. Don’t do that. The truth is that it hurts because it’s real. It hurts because it mattered. And that’s an important thing to acknowledge to yourself. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t end, that it won’t get better. Because it will.’ – John Green

A lot of people have commended me on my strength in the wake of my attack. And I am a strong person, but yes I was scared after the attack. More so for my family’s safety based on the information he took from me. After I got a few hours of sleep I started to inform those closest to me. By Thursday morning I decided to post about what had happened to me, provide some more details, and call on my vast network of friends near and far for their help.

As for me, I am doing just fine, all things considered. I am still me, through and through. And I will continue to be myself despite all that has happened. My physical wounds are healing quickly and I honestly feel that I’m the same strong person I’ve always been. Every day changes us a little bit. Some days are just a bit longer and more happens. But you just have to accept and process what happened that day and move on. Personally, I have been working on mastering that art for a very long time, and I think my constant conviction to self-reflection and self-improvement have helped make me the strong, confident person I am today.

Please stay safe Kalamazoo. I love you SO much. Please don’t live in fear. This is YOUR city, this is OUR city, and no one is going to take it away from us. Please don’t forget that.

Stay Positive.

Be excellent to each other.

Thank you.

And Don’t Forget to Be Awesome.

Sincerely,

The girl with the ‘Walking is Still Honest’ tattoo

For any questions or requests, please use the following:

WalkingIsStillHonestKalamazoo@gmail.com

On Being Out and About While Female

There’s a classroom activity done in Women’s Studies courses that illustrates the differences between what it’s like to be a man in the world and what it’s like to be a woman in the world. It’s very basic; I mean “in the world” in the sense of “walking down the street”. The men in the room are asked to describe the things they do to ensure their safety when they go out. The usual response is crickets. When women are asked how they keep themselves safe, there’s a flood of responses. Never go out alone. Carry mace. Hold your keys between your fingers so you can a) jab a potential attacker with them and b) aren’t fumbling around at your car like a sitting duck while you try to unlock the door. Imagine what it’s like if you happen to be trans or gender queer or your sexuality doesn’t fit the dominant narrative. There’s a whole pantheon of extra things you have to do to stay safe, then.

I tend to disregard all these ingrained rules for being Out and About While Female. It’s not a smart decision to wander around as if I have the same privilege as men, but I do it anyway because I’m really mad that I’m denied the simple right to feel safe in my own community. My logic is nonsensical, and I’ve regretted my lack of mace/key shanks/rape whistles more than once when a man has felt okay stepping in my path, touching me in some way, or suggesting I spend my evening with him.

In our culture, we teach girls and women to be constantly on guard and take preventative action. Violence is assumed, and it’s our responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen to us. This also assumes that the violence will be inflicted on some other girl or woman, one who (maybe like me) wasn’t willing to play the precaution game. If you’re harassed, assaulted, or raped- it was probably your fault for not fending it off well enough. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get our lives together and start reframing these issues as the perpetrator’s problem? Rape isn’t a woman’s issue. Rape is a man’s issue. Instead of teaching our girls and women not to get raped we should be teaching our boys and men (hold it in your holsters here, pals, this is one heckuva thunderbolt coming your way!) to not rape.

Last night, my friend and I were out together when we found ourselves propositioned by two of the most flap-mouthed, milk-livered gudgeons I’ve ever encountered. We just couldn’t seem to shake them- even when we moved to another bar entirely. This is the moment when that Personal Safety bit came up again. There’s a line between maintaining social decorum and feeling safe. These men were total jerks sure, but was it enough to justify being rude and giving them the what for? But, why is that even a question we felt the need to ask ourselves? This was our night out- why did we feel obligated to keep spending our time with these (im)perfect strangers?

Because we’re socialized to be nice and polite and pander to men. Ugh. Even us Angry Feminist Killjoys fall into that trap sometimes. And then one of the dudes bought us drinks. That’s the kiss of death on a quick getaway. My friend and I took one of those group trips to the bathroom so we could discuss how we were going to make our escape. That’s when we were told we couldn’t take alcohol into the bathroom. Because of course we couldn’t. This bar happened to have a strange setup where the bathroom was technically outside of the bar, so while I understand the liquor licensing issues going on, that presents a huge problem for Lady Safety.

What were we supposed to do with these brand new drinks? Leave them with the absolute codpieces who purchased them? That would definitely work… if we were hoping to get drugged. We ended up making a desperate plea to the employee barring our entrance. My friend said, “We’re with these awful guys” right as I said, “Look, I think they might actually slip rufinol in these.” She was very kind about it, babysat our alcohol, and I’m pretty sure she was ready to help us sneak out the back. Ladies have to help each other out, you know. We broke away shortly thereafter. The fellas didn’t take our departure kindly, which was just so endearing it made me want to change my mind and spend more time with them after all!

The point of this post wasn’t merely to complain about that uncomfortable experience, but to illustrate the frequency with which these same stupid situations crop up in our lives. Every time my lady friends and I go out without a gentleman amongst us, we end up spending the night fending off handsy dudes. Sometimes we meet really great people and have nice conversations and a fun time, but… there is always the assumption of violence. Is this situation safe? What do these people really want from us? Is this going to end poorly? The presence of even one male in our group will change the course of our night entirely. At one point, my friend mentioned her boyfriend to the dudes. Even though we’d been saying we weren’t interested all night, they didn’t hear it until a male partner was invented. Why is it that men will respect men (even imaginary ones!) more than they’ll respect the women they’re courting?

It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating that none of our male friends ever fully understand what we’re trying to tell them. I was out with two male friends once, and they couldn’t understand why I was frustrated when they vanished for a quarter of an hour. We were in an unfamiliar city and I had to spend the entire time alone, trying to escape leering eyes and unwanted advances. (I was tipsier than I should have been, because until they disappeared, I felt safe with my friends around.) I really pride myself on my independence, but there are some situations where even I know that being mouthy and snarky is going to get me into trouble.

Our culture keeps making all of this my problem, but it’s not. I shouldn’t have to be constantly sparring and on edge. Because this is a man’s problem. Apparently that’s a really difficult concept in our society, so here are a few things you can stop right now: expecting sex because you bought me a beer; assuming that I owe you my time; becoming rude and violent when I don’t give you my time or my body; touching me without my permission in any way, at any time, ever; generally being a nuisance. Let’s start there, okay?

Education as Activism

There seems to be a trend of really smart and talented young women adamantly denying the importance of feminism and strongly disassociating with the word ‘feminist’. Then, we land ourselves in a Women’s Studies course in college and it seems like our whole world explodes. Suddenly everything makes sense! All our self-hatred, insecurity, fake friendships, and unstable relationships make sense because we finally understand the system we’re operating in. If an Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course was required in the same way that First Year Composition is required, I really believe our campuses would be much safer, smarter, progressive places. But what about the folks who don’t want to or aren’t able to attend college? What about the folks who don’t ever find themselves in a Women’s Studies course? What if gender justice education could start earlier?

My primary, middle, and high school experiences would have been infinitely improved if someone had explained the basics of gender roles to me. When we don’t understand how our society functions, it’s hard to understand why things like girl hate and slut shaming are wrong. We’re taught that it’s just the way things are. Girls are jealous, competitive, and hate other girls! Anyone having sex is a depraved slut! This toxic environment (especially pitting young women against each other) hurts all of us and contributes to rape culture. Recent media attention around the Steubenville rape trial and the truly tragic suicides of rape victims who are blamed and harassed clearly showcase the need for education. If you can handle it, do a quick Google search for ‘slut shaming suicides’. It happens all the time. We need to teach other about what victim blaming is and why it happens. We need to learn about sex and especially about consent. Lack of education is literally killing us.

This is why young feminism is so important. Adult feminists spend lots of time talking about politics and laws, and that’s incredible! We need that! But our thoughts, ideas, and life philosophies are profoundly shaped in our youth. It’s hard to make decisions about what you believe in and who you want to be when you’re only given one example, one message, and one way to be. We need to change the dominant narratives that shape our society. Young feminists are in a great position to do that. I think about this constantly, so I was incredibly excited to find an article in The Star about a group of five young women who are bringing gender studies courses to high schools in Ontario.

The Miss G Project for Equity in Education is an awesome, totally inspiring example of activism. Too often, we end up talking about problems and injustices without getting anywhere. Activism is difficult, and progress is often snail-speed. But it’s the vital second step to talking about problems. If we keep telling each other things are bad but don’t do anything to make things good, we won’t get anywhere. When we make a plan and stick with it, even if it takes eight years (!), then we’ll see big things start to happen. Talking is an essential first step, and I don’t mean to belie its importance. This whole blog is a lot more talking than doing, because educating ourselves is an important kind of activism. If we don’t know what’s happening or why it’s happening, we can’t do anything to change it. That’s the premise of The Miss G Project!

I’m so excited that teenagers in Ontario will now have the opportunity to learn about the important role of gender in our lives…and they’ll learn about it in public schools! That’s so cool. That is what I desperately needed when I was a teenager, even if I didn’t know it at the time. What kind of education do you wish you’d had access to growing up? And if you were going to launch an activist campaign today, what would it be?